FROM NON-STANDARD TO SUB-STANDARD: Laruelle’s syntax of scientism

The thesis of this blog is that Laruelle’s philosophy (like those of Badiou, Deleuze, Latour, Stiegler) is a metaphysical research programme Popper’s sense, combining both testable or empirical material with untestable more metaphysical material. This is Karl Popper’s definition, which I have been applying on this blog to render possible the analysis and comparative evaluation of the claims and the theses of rival research programmes in Continental Philosophy.

It is to be noted that Laruelle himself confirms this analysis in his PRINCIPLES OF NON-PHILOSOPHY:

Under the perhaps too classical title of “Principles” we will find a program of research defined by a problematic; by a form of work called a “unified theory of science and philosophy” (1).

What Laruelle does not seem to realise is that this characterisation does not establish his project as sui generis (what I have elsewhere called Laruelle’s “Uniqueness Hypothesis”), but confirms his inclusion in a more general configuration of thought.

A second denegation (whether due to naiveté or to bad faith I leave the reader to decide) is Laruelle’s omnipresent scientism. In PRINCIPLES OF PHILOSOPHY he calls this unified theory of science and philosophy a “science-thought” or a “first science”. This constant morpho-syntaxic privilege accorded to one face of the so-called “Identity” of philosophy and science is a marker of Laruelle’s incoherence on the question of science.

To see this incoherence even more clearly we need only consult Laruelle’s unique book devoted explicitly to the question of science and non-philosophy: THEORY OF IDENTITIES, first published in French in 1992. In the first chapter Laruelle tells us:

De Platon à Kant et à Heidegger règne une triple division du travail intellectuel… A cette triple division du travail intellectuel, aucune philosophie n’échappe réellement. Aucune épistémologie — empiriste ou idéaliste, positiviste ou matérialiste — ne peut se libérer de ce qui est un invariant, en général peu reconnu comme tel, de l’interprétation gréco-philosophique de la science, anglo-saxonne comprise (54-55).

My translation:

From Plato to Kant and to Heidegger there reigns a triple division of intellectuel labour … No philosophy ever really escapes from this division of intellectual labour. No epistemology – whether empiricist or idealist, positivist or materialist – can free itself from what is an invariant, generally not admitted as such, of the Greco-philosophical (including the Anglo-Saxon) interpretation of science.

The invariant “triple division” of intellectual labour between science and philosophy is according to Laruelle:
1) Philosophy thinks, science knows but does not think
2) Philosophy is absolute science, empirical sciences are contingent and relative
3) Philosophy thinks Being, science knows not even beings but their properties or the facts.

In this text it is asserted that “No philosophy ever really escapes from this division of intellectual labour”. This universalising gesture is typical of Laruelle, he condemns the totalising pretentions of “Philosophy” but he himself sees invariants everywhere. The leap from “philosophy from Plato to Heidegger” to all philosophy is absolutely unfounded.

This sort of assertion is part of the Uniqueness Complex that Laruelle has edified around his work. Broad sweeping claims proffered by a lonely prophet in an intellectual vacuum. Perhaps Laruelle can be forgiven for not knowing every philosophy that exists, but he should at least get right the philosophies of those of his contemporaries that he has written most about: Deleuze and Badiou. Deleuze called into question every one of the three divisions that Laruelle lists, long before Laruelle came to write this. The same is true for Badiou, for whom science is a “site of thought”, as are art, love, and politics.

Laruelle’s discussion of these points, as of so many others, belongs to another age. Both Bergson and Bachelard had already dismantled and discredited the sort of philosophy that Laruelle would have us believe to be the Standard Model that has traversed the history of philosophy unchanged and unrecognised until he came along. Laruelle is not an innovator here, but a late-comer to the feast of conceptual creation.

Elsewhere in PRINCIPLES OF NON-PHILOSOPHY Laruelle admits that his earlier thought had been impregnated with scientism (something that his followers have steadfastly denied), and indicates that this book embodies his attempt to break with  “the excessive critique of philosophy in the name of the primacy of science”. This is the tendency in Laruelle that I encourage.

Talking about his evolution from Philosophy II to Philosophy III, Laruelle declares:

If I is intra-philosophical and II marks the discovery of the non-philosophical against philosophy and to the benefit of science, III frees itself from the authority of science, i.e. in reality from any philosophical spirit of hierarchy, and takes as its object the whole of philosophical sufficiency (PRINCIPES DE LA NON-PHILOSOPHIE, 40, my translation).

Whatever one may think of the rest of Laruelle’s non-philosophy project (and I think that there is much interesting and useful material to be found in his works) we must admit that his continuing scientism that continues within his attempt at elaborating a non-standard philosophy remains decidedly sub-standard.

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4 Responses to FROM NON-STANDARD TO SUB-STANDARD: Laruelle’s syntax of scientism

  1. landzek says:

    There are two untraversable and unreducible philosophical routes. Laruelle is haveing difficulty ‘cutting the cord’, so to speak.

    As an analogy: A writer of computer code does not listen to my suggestion about how he should write it, though i use a PC and a Mac everyday.

    My friend a math professor does not consider my speculations on how the mars rover hardware should interface its machine language to human graphical undetstanding.

    While ‘computers’ may be a category of experience that we all undetstand, there are levels of computer knowledge that exceed mere teachability. There is no possibility in any reality that i would ever be able to write code to communicate between a soil scooper and a computer monitor million miles away.

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  2. landzek says:

    Irreducible 😊🙃🙂

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  3. Dominic Fox says:

    Terence, I think your criticisms of Laruelle are well-targeted – in particular, I’m glad that someone has noticed his tendency to stipulate that a problem has been solved, or a particular “move” accomplished, without actually providing anything beyond the stipulation to show *how* this is done. Readers either accept the stipulated “move” as already accomplished (and then go around promoting Laruelle as the one and only thinker who accomplishes it), or attempt to fill in the details for themselves, often with little help from Laruelle’s own writings. The latter is a much more interesting and productive approach: if someone tells you that a “unified theory of science and philosophy” exists, or is at least a thing that can be worked on, and you set about seeing how this might be done, you will at least have gained something from the *suggestion* even if the implementation is largely lacking.

    (My view is that no such “unified theory” is possible, although we can have a theory – like Lyotard’s in The Differend – of why it isn’t possible and of what we might do instead, namely experimentally and paralogistically linking phrases from different phrase-regimes. The program of looking for new configurations of thought which cut across “regional” knowledges while respecting the heterogeneity of different domains, belongs – as you say – as much to Latour or Feyerabend, or even Badiou, as it does to Laruelle.)

    It seems to me however that Laruelle’s “quantum” thought is no more accomplished in reality than the “fractality” he previously stipulated, which as you observed in another post never really came to anything very much. It seems to add up to a few loose transliterations – “vector” as a kind of motion in space, which can be combined with other motions; “matrix” as a means or locus of combination; “superposition” as the simultaneity of possibly contrary motions; “undulation” as the rhythm of motions in continuous combination, and so on – which give a sense of multiple forces in play without a governing “classical” logic of discreteness and non-contradiction. For certain purposes that may be an enabling “image of thought” – it certainly suggests a kind of suppleness, a repudiation of dogmatism. But *suggestion* is just what it is, and I don’t see that Laruelle goes any further than this in elaborating a theory or a practice that is genuinely faithful to what quantum mechanics proposes.

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    • terenceblake says:

      Hello Dominic, I am glad you agree with my analysis, that Laruelle proceeds by stipulation and supplementation. I argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as one is ready to admit that these are heuristic suggestions for further research rather than worked out positions. I think the “fractality” stuff is silly and dated, it reads like a bad imitation of Baudrillard. The “quantum” metaphor (it is just that: a metaphor) is potentially more fruitful, but it does not do much work at present, except, as you indicate, for valorising some rather vague qualities.

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